Saturday, March 12, 2011

Eating in Winter

Someday I hope to have the space for such season-extenders as hoop-houses or passive solar greenhouses or even just nice south-facing windows for indoor growing. I do keep a few herbs indoors for sprucing up winter dishes, but I haven't yet mastered the art of 4-season gardening.

Eating as locally as possible, however, is still important to me. So what to do? There are a few winter farmers' markets in the Boston area, but none are particularly convenient to me. I've also heard that a lot of them are meat and dairy centric, which makes sense, but is of little interest to me as a vegan.

Enter Boston Organics. For $29/week, I get a box of fresh, organic, farm-direct produce delivered to my door. My roommate and I split the cost and share the veggies, and there are some weeks that even two non-meat-eating adults can't finish it all up -- right now we kind of have a backlog of potatoes and carrots! As if this weren't already a great enough deal, they have the option of a "local" box. Admittedly, in the depths of winter we're stretching into Quebec and New York to round out the offering, but it beats California or, seen recently on the regular box list, Italy! I know I'm lucky to live in a city where this is an option (and by the way, this is my own support of a company I like; no kickbacks from them behind this plug).

I usually buy some local greens, and maybe a bunch of herbs (for me + the bunny to share). Beyond that, my roommate and I take turns buying staples like beans, grains, canned tomatoes, tortillas, bread, and almond milk. Simple, cheap, delicious. I actually find it difficult to spend more than $20 or so at the grocery store.

Today I made a batch of homemade almond milk. I can't believe how easy this is, or how yummy. There are lots of recipes and personal suggestions floating around online, but here's what I did:

1 c raw almonds
8 c water
a glug of agave nectar (maybe 2 Tbsp)
a pinch or two salt

Soak the almonds overnight. Drain the soaking water, and add to blender with 8 cups of water. Blend until frothy and creamy. Add salt and agave and blend to combine. Strain through cheesecloth. Voila!

I think next time I'll try with 6 cups of water. Most recipes online seem to call for 4, but it was still delicious with 8. A little more thickness will be close to perfection for me -- I probably would not have sweetened it had I used less water.

What really gets me about making almond milk was firstly, how EASY it was, and secondly, how I get almond meal as a byproduct. I *buy* almond meal from time to time (I like to experiment with gluten-free baking, because it can't really hurt to get more grain variety in our diets!). Now I can have fresh, homemade almond milk AND almond meal along with the satisfaction of making a household staple with simple ingredients!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Urban Homesteaders' Action Day

As many have already documented in thorough detail, the phrases "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading" have recently been trademarked by a certain family (whose name I refuse to use in tandem with those phrases anymore, lest they somehow think I'm crediting them). I remember coming across their website 6 or 7 years ago. They have certainly been an inspiration, and this turn of events hurts. I don't believe it will stand up in court, and I'm not worried about them coming after me for using those words or anything like that, but the betrayal stings.

What a beautiful coming together of the community of those of us striving toward self-reliance has happened in response, though! I was lamenting the other day that I only wanted to read gardening/farming/homesteading blogs anymore and couldn't find good ones. Now I have somewhere close to 100 new ones (as gathered by the awesome Crunchy Chicken) to peruse thanks to this action day! And although I've been on a personally-imposed Facebook hiatus for the past week, I did sneak on to add my support to the Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) group (shhh, don't tell!)

Funnily enough, thanks to one of the blogs I found in all this mess, Grow and Resist, I've reconsidered whether I even *want* to identify as a "homesteader." I think I'll stick with "urban farmer." So what happened at the farm this evening?
  • groomed Theo, my brand new Jersey Woolly rabbit, and collected a nice handful of wool
  • checked the seedlings under lights -- spilanthes, Tom Thumb lettuce, and leeks are up!
  • transplanted broccoli raab, spinach, and an unknown lettuce (from a mixed packet) into indoor windowbox
  • made granola (flavor of the week: dried cherry, coconut, agave)
  • made do chua (daikon-carrot pickle) for future bahn mi
  • made spicy pickled carrots (I plan to eat with lentils and rice)
  • purchased materials for new sub-irrigated tub experiment
  • started soaking the seed-starting mix for tomorrow's planting of eggplants, peppers, parsley, and basil
  • fed the worms a nice handful of daikon and carrot trimmings and discovered that although I've only had them for about a month, there is a definite stratum of rich castings! Go worms, go!
My apartment is small and so is the amount I can do while working 45+ hours a week outside of the house. But I'm absolutely honored to be part of this group of folks doing what they can to aim for self-sufficiency. Whatever we choose to call ourselves, we rock!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Garden planning, seed starting

Hallelujah! Seed starting time is officially here! Next weekend marks 12 weeks until our last frost date, but I went ahead and started a few things today for several reasons:

1. I believe that my balcony microclimate gives me a little edge over the Boston airport.
2. Having only a few plants of each type means that I can easily manage the needs of my seedlings -- if I put them out too early and we get a cold snap, I can bring them in for a few nights, for example.
3. I am very very stingy with my heat, so my apartment hovers at just below 60 F during the winter. I figure it can't hurt to give my seedlings a little extra time to make up for any cold-induced slow growth.
4. I'll be honest -- my Fedco order came in and I was pretty eager to plant!

Today I started leeks, lettuce, cutting celery, and spilanthes, (an herb that makes your mouth numb!). This weekend I will start parsley, spinach, maybe some other greens, and eggplant. I don't have a heat mat and don't intend to invest in one this year, so I may not have success with eggplant. Last year I saw no signs of life. This year I'll try them out on top of the radiator so their feet can get nice and toasty.

In the meantime, I've been making some serious decisions and doing some serious planning. I have HIGH hopes for my little balcony this year, and I intend to be ready. So I have to decide exactly how many of each plant I want to start and what they're going to be planted into when the time comes. This involves making graph-paper maps of my space, lists of what items need what size container, etc.

I'll share a tentative sketch soon. I do know this: I need a LOT more 5-gallon buckets in the next few months...!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Snow, snow, snow.

21 December

12 January

29 January

Here in Boston we're in the middle of an unusually snowy and cold winter. Last year's was unusually UN-snowy, so this is kind of a shock to my poor Southern self. Last winter there were only two major snowstorms, so I welcomed spring with snow seeming magical and novel. This winter we've already had 7 storms totaling 60" of snow -- all in the past MONTH! To put this into perspective, the average snowfall for the season in these parts is just over 40", and February is historically the snowiest month. Oh, dear.

After reading Gayla's post about seedlings as therapy, I thought it might do my soul some good to start a few seeds, just as a reminder that spring WILL come and all this mess will melt! If they don't make it because I started them too early, well, what's 10 or 15 seeds? So today I started 3 calendula, 3 rapini, 6 mixed lettuces, 3 spinach, 3 red chard, and 3 dianthus. I tried to pick varieties that are not *too* far off from "proper" starting time, or that have a shot at growing indoors. But just the act of caressing seed packets, making room for my seedling trays, getting my fingers ever-so-slightly dirty? Already worth it even if nothing germinates. Ahhhh.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2011 Planning

With well over a foot of snow covering my balcony right now, I guess it is inevitable that my thoughts are turning to days in the not-terribly-distant future when I'll be able to look out and see some green again.

Most significantly, I just took the major step of ordering fruit trees for my tiny little farm. A genetic dwarf peach/nectarine combo tree and an Asian pear featuring two varieties grafted onto the same tree for easy pollination will arrive at my doorstep sometime in April! I hope these trees will find a permanent home in the ground before too long, but I want to be ready to give them a nice, beautiful home for the upcoming growing season.

I have two large half-barrel size plastic containers in mind for the trees (you can see one on the left in the garden overview pics below). For the peach, I'm thinking a ring of garlic planted around it and eaten as green garlic, then another ring of nasturtiums spilling over the sides. While the nasturtium grows, maybe I can pop some lettuce seedlings in between. Basil is supposed to be good for repelling fruit flies, so I can either make sure to set a basil plant nearby or maybe set one on the rear of the container.

For the pear container, I'm considering moving my two little blackcurrants in along with some chives or another allium. I'm considering trying out a couple leek seedlings solely for the incredible flowers they send up! Finally, if I get my hands on some alpine strawberries, I think they'd make a beautiful addition to this little mini-orchard in a pot, spilling over the sides.

What do you think? Do you companion plant container fruit trees, or do you just mulch?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


 A few months ago, this honeybee visited me just as I was getting out of my car. I stayed very still for several minutes, basking in gratitude for the unexpected visit and taking a moment to study her body.

I thought she would fly away when I started to move, but she stayed with me as I carried the baby I nanny out of his carseat and up the stairs, careful to make sure his feet stayed far away from my little passenger. Finally, for her safety as well as the baby's, I took her outside and deposited her on a bush. I wonder now if she was in her last moments of life, clinging to my skirt for its light color.

I have toyed with the idea of bringing a hive up to my balcony to live with me. I have the perfect sun exposure for them, not to mention a safe place high above the eyes and heads of neighbors. The only potential problem is space. Not in terms of square footage -- I would easily and gladly sacrifice some of my balcony's footprint for a honey hive! -- but in distance between potential hive and garden. I haven't been able to find a solid answer, but my internet research has led me to believe that bees need several yards between their hives and human activity. Would erecting some sort of barrier between the back of the hive and my gardening space do the trick?